Research statement

My artwork is a conceptual attempt to blend the many contradictory cultural influences that have informed and affected me throughout my life. As a Mexican-American child growing up in North Carolina, I was far from my Southern Californian cultural roots. Art making became a way to connect with my heritage. The desire to discover my roots later combined with my love of painting, drawing and storytelling to shape my cultural outlook, aesthetic sensibility and artistic trajectory. As a young artist I was attracted to the heightened color palettes of Post-Impressionism. But it was French Surrealism’s theoretical challenge to conscious reality and emphasis on traditional representational skills that have shaped the evolution of my painting over the long term and helped establish in me a poetic skepticism towards mainstream culture. At the same time, opening the doors to the unconscious unleashed a curiosity in me and I began to explore a diverse range of cultures and pictorial iconographies - from Western art history to American popular culture to Pre-Columbian art and beyond. I happily discovered that weaving together these diverse visual threads induced a delightful clash of cultural symbols that was critical, funny and engaging.

As I began to develop my vision, the value of satire and parody as strategies for responding to situational art making became apparent. Keep on Crossin’, a conceptual border art project (whose art historical precedents can be found in the work of the Border Arts Workshop, Esther Hernandez and The Royal Chicano Air Force), is a good example of the use of parody. “Keep on Truckin’” a phrase that was popularized in the 1970s by counterculture artist Robert Crumb, was renamed and remapped onto the US/Mexico border region as commentary on the very act of boundary crossing itself. The project also frames cultural appropriation as a two-way exchange between Mexico and the U.S. In Political Science, a series of monoprints using recycled motor oil, I pressed the geopolitics of petroleum fuels into the subtext of portraits of the opposing leaders of the Iraq War. The drawings, using motor oil leaked from my car, were theoretically linked in my mind to Allan Kaprow’s “fluid” attempt to clean a friend’s floor using a toothbrush and saliva produced from his own mouth – a different kind of leakage.

Today, I work in a variety of techniques and media to realize my ideas including painting, drawing, printmaking, video murals, installation and performance. By 2010, ideas that were originally conceived for the canvas grew beyond the frame and blossomed into multimedia performances involving many collaborators. A painting titled, Coatlicue, evolved into a performance that examined how suppressed cultural forces can never be completely destroyed. Coatlicue, a pre-Columbian religious figure, was forced underground by the Spanish invaders until it reemerged back onto the historical stage in the modified guise of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Gates of Heck is the most recent painting to inspire a performance. A parody of both Rodin’s Le Porte de l’Enfer and Dante’s Inferno, it investigates the architecture of contemporary mythology in the form of comic book superheroes – the would-be gods of our era. As a meditation on epic poetry it also contemplates the imperatives and motivations behind the immigrant’s life-changing odyssey.